Leon Trotsky

What They Say in Prague
About the United Front

From the Series of Articles in the Forthcoming Book The Only Road

(September 1932)

Written: 2 September 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 43, 22 October 1932, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

“WHEN THE Communist International made a united front with the social democratic leaders in 1926,” wrote the central organ of the Czechoslovakia Communist party, Rude Pravo, on February 27 of this year, allegedly in the name of a worker-correspondent “from the bench”, “it did this in order to expose them before the masses of supporters, and at that time Trotsky was terribly opposed to it. Now, when the social democracy has so discredited itself by its countless betrayals of the workers’ struggles, Trotsky proposes the united front with its leaders ... Trotsky is today against the Anglo-Russian Committee of 1926, but for any sort of Anglo-Russian Committee of 1932.”

These lines lead us right to the heart of the question. In 1926, the Comintern sought to “expose” the reformist leaders with the aid of the united front policy, and that was right. But since then the social democracy has “discredited” itself. Before whom? There are still more workers following it than the Communist party. This is sad but true. The task of exposing the reformist leaders thus remain unsolved. If the method of the united front was good in 1926, why should it be bad in 1932?

“Trotsky is for an Anglo-Russian Committee of 1932, against the Anglo-Russian Committee of 1926.” In 1926, the united front was concluded only at the top, between the leaders of the Soviet trade unions and the British trade unionists, not in the name of definite practical actions of the masses separated from each other by state frontiers and social conditions, but upon the basis of a friendly-diplomatic, pacifist-evasive “platform”. During the miners’ strike – and later the general strike – the Anglo-Russian Committee could not even come together, for the “allies” pulled in two opposite directions: the Soviet trade unions strove to assist the strikers, the British trade unionists sought to break the strike. The substantial contributions collected by the Russian workers were rejected by the General Council as “damned gold”. Only after the strike had been finally betrayed and broken did the Anglo-Russian Committee come together again to the scheduled banquet to exchange small talk. Thus did the policy of the Anglo-Russian Committee serve to cover up the reformist strike-breakers before the working masses.

At the present time we are speaking of something quite different. In Germany the social democratic and the Communist workers stand on the same ground, before the same danger. They mingle with each other in factories, in trade unions, at the unemployment registries, etc. It is not a question here of a word-”platform” of the leaders, out of thoroughly concrete tasks which are calculated to draw the mass organizations directly into the struggle.

The united front policy on a national scale is ten times harder than on a local scale. The united front policy on an international scale is a hundred times harder than on a national scale. To unite with the British reformists around so general a slogan as “defense of the U.S.S.R.” or “defense of the Chinese revolution”, is to talk the blue out of the clouds. In Germany, on the contrary, there is the immediate danger of the destruction of the workers’ organizations, the social democratic included. To expect the social democracy to fight for the defense of the Soviet Union against the German bourgeoisie would be an illusion. But we certainly can expect that the social democracy will fight for the defense of its mandates, its meetings, periodicals, treasuries and finally, for its own head.

Only, even in Germany we in no way advocate lapsing into a united front fetishism. An agreement is an agreement. It remains in effect so long as it serves the practical goal for which it was concluded. If the reformists begin to curb or to sabotage the movement, the Communists must always put themselves the question: is it not time to tear up the agreement and to lead the masses further under our own banner? Such a policy is not an easy one. But who has ever argued that to lead the proletariat to victory is a simple task? By counterposing the year 1926 to the year 1932, Rude Pravo has demonstrated only its lack of comprehension of what occurred six years ago as well as what is happening today.

The “worker-correspondent” from the imaginary bench also turns his attention to the example adduced by me of the agreement of the Bolsheviks with the Mensheviks and Social Revoltionists. “At that time,” he writes, “Kerensky really fought for a certain time against Kornilov and at the same time helped the proletariat smash Kerensky. That the German social democracy today does not fight against Fascism is evident to any little child.”

The Thälmann who so closely resembles a “little child” contends that an agreement of the Russian Bolsheviks with the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionists never even existed. Rude Pravo, as we see, pursues a different course. The agreement it does not deny. But according to its conception, the agreement was justified by this, that Kerensky really fought against Kornilov, in distinction to the social democracy which is preparing the road to power for Fascism. The idealization of Kerensky here is quite astounding. When did Kerensky begin to fight against Kornilov? At the very moment when Kornilov swung the Cossack’s saber over Kerensky’s own head, that is, on the eve of August 26, 1917. On the previous day, Kerensky was still in a direct conspiracy with Kornilov with the aim of jointly crushing the Petrograd workers and soldiers. If Kerensky began to “fight” against Kornilov or more correctly, to offer no resistance, for a time, to the fight against Kornilov, then it was only because the Bolsheviks left him no other alternative. That Kornilov and Kerensky, both of them conspirators, broe with each other and came into open conflict, was to a certain extent a surprise. That it would have to come to a collision between German Fascism and the social democracy, could and should have been foreseen, were it only on the basis of the Italian and Polish experiences. Why should an agreement with Kerensky against Kornilov have been concluded, and why is it forbidden to preach, to fight for, to advocate and to prepare an agreement with the social democratic mass organizations? Why must such agreements be destroyed wherver they have come into being? That, however, is just how Thälmann and Company proceed.

Rude Pravo naturally pounced ravenously upon my words that an agreement on fighting actions may be made with the devil, with his grandmother and even with Noske and Grzesinski. “Look, Communist workers,” writes the paper, “you’ve got to come to terms with Grzesinski who has already shot so many of your comrades-in-arms. Come to an agreement with him for he is to fight together with you against the Fascists, with whom he hobnobs at banquets and in the boards of management of factories and banks.” The whole question is shifted here onto the plane of spurious sentimentality. Such an objection is worthy of an anarchist, an old Russian Left wing Social Revolutionist, a “revolutionary pacifist” or of Münzenberg himself. There isn’t a glimmer of Marxism in it.

First of all: is it correct that Grzesinski is a worker’s hangman? Absolutely correct. But wasn’t Kerensky a hangman of the workers and peasants in far greater measure than Grzesinski? Nevertheless, Rude Pravo approves after the fact the practical agreement with Kerensky.

To support the hangman in every action directed against the workers is a crime, if not treachery: that is just what the alliance of Stalin with Chiang Kai-Shek consisted of. But if this same Chinese hangman were to find himself engaged tomorrow in a war with the Japanese imperialists, then practical fighting agreements of the Chinese workers with the hangman Chiang Kai-Shek would be quite permissible and even – a duty.

Did Grzesinski hobnob with the Fascists at banquets? I do not know, but I’m quite prepared to grant it. Only, Grzesinski was subsequently obliged to sit in the Berlin prison, not in the name of socialism, it is true, but only because he was loath to give up his warm seat to the Bonapartists and the Fascists. Had the Communist party openly declared at least a year ago: against the Fascist assassins we are prepared to fight jointly even with Grzesinski: had it invested this formula with a fighting character, developed it in speeches and articles, brought it into the depths of the masses – Grzesinski would have been unable to defend his capitulation before the masses in July with references to the sabotage of the Communist party. He would either have had to go along with this or that active step or else expose himself hopelessly in the eyes of his own workers. Isn’t this clear?

To be sure, even if Grzesinski were drawn into the struggle by the logic of his situation and the pressure of the masses, he would be an extremely unreliable, a thoroughly perifidious ally. His principal thought would be to pass over as quickly as possible from struggle or half-struggle to an agreement with the capitalists. But the masses set into motion, even the social democratic masses, do not come to a halt as easily as do outraged police chiefs. The approach between the social democratic and the Communist workers in the process of the struggle would offer the Communist party leaders a far broader possibility for influencing the social democratic workers, especially in face of the common danger. And that is precisely what the final aim of the united front consists in.

To reduce the whole policy of the proletariat to agreements with the reformist organizations or, still worse, to the abstract slogan of “unity”, is something that only spineless Centrists of the stripe of the Socialist Workers Party can do. For the Marxists, the united front policy is merely one of the methods in the course of the class struggle. Under certain conditions this method becomes completely useless; it would be absurd to want to conclude an agreement with the reformists on the socialist upheaval. But there are conditions under which the rejection of the united front may ruin the revolutionary party for many decades to come. That is the situation in Germany at the present time.

(Continued in the Next Issue)

Prinkipo, September 2, 1932


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Last updated on: 8 December 2014